NASA's Prototype EELS 1.0 Prepares to Conquer the Most Extreme of Terrain

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JPL robot has created the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS) 1.0, an upgraded version of the previous snake-like robot. EELS 1.0 is self-propelled, weighs 220 pounds, and has twelve actuators, allowing it to traverse extreme terrain. It was tested in various terrains on Earth, and demonstrated its autonomous abilities, detection skills and 3D map creation. This is considered a breakthrough as it is a versatile and risk-aware robot, equipped with features necessary to travel to extreme locations.

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Earlier, Interesting Engineering reported about a unique snake-like robot that could easily traverse extreme terrain regions of the alien worlds. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has now issued an update on the upgraded version of the robot, known as EELS 1.0. EELS stands for Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor.

The self-propelled robot has been created to slither through the rough, unknown, and extreme surfaces of our solar system's planets and moons. With this ability, it could navigate all types of terrains, including ice, sand, cliff walls, deep craters, and lava tubes.

Robotic snakes are considerably more efficient for planetary exploration, due to the increased number of actuators which allows them to move in more directions.

"It has the capability to go to locations where other robots can’t go. Though some robots are better at one particular type of terrain or other, the idea for EELS is the ability to do it all. When you’re going places where you don’t know what you’ll find, you want to send a versatile, risk-aware robot that’s prepared for uncertainty – and can make decisions on its own," explained Matthew Robinson, EELS project manager in an official statement.

The EELS project is a joint collaboration between JPL and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

--- Meet EELS 1.0 --- .

The robot was designed with Saturn's moon Enceladus in mind, which may have water beneath its icy crust. Whenever this mission happens, EELS would be ready to go deep down the thick icy surface to map and collect information on what lies beneath.

The creation of this one-of-a-kind robot prototype began in 2019. The team has been conducting field trials to test and refine the capabilities of the robots. Field tests were conducted in rough terrain on Earth, including the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies, which serves as a model for alien icy moons. They've also tested it on other grounds, such as Mars Yard at JPL and a ski resort.

Ono was inspired by the creativity of Japanese anime artists when designing the project.

--- The prototype specifications --- .

It weighs about 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and stands 13 feet (4 meters) tall. The robot's body is made up of ten identical actuator segments stitched together with screw threads — allowing it to rotate, move, and even grip. The final version of this prototype will have up to 48 actuators, or "48 steering wheels," which will allow it to move around and perform tasks.

The team used specially designed software to ensure the robot could traverse the terrain with consistent direction.

The concept also overcomes the issue of communication lag time between Earth and deep space. It can detect and recover from risk on its own. This is due to the EELS's ability to create a 3D map of its surroundings using built-in stereo cameras and lidar. The information obtained from these sensors and navigation algorithms will assist the robot in proceeding on the safest path.

The JPL team tested the hardware and software that allows the robot to operate autonomously during these field trials. In September, they will test the prototype at the Athabasca Glacier to investigate subsurface mobility.

The project has been designed with a possible future mission to Saturn's moon Enceladus in mind.

"We have a different philosophy of robot development than traditional spacecraft, with many quick cycles of testing and correcting. There are dozens of textbooks about how to design a four-wheel vehicle, but there is no textbook about how to design an autonomous snake robot to boldly go where no robot has gone before. We have to write our own. That’s what we’re doing now," concluded Hiro Ono, EELS principal investigator at JPL.

EELS 1.0 is designed to take on terrain of all kinds, including ice, sand, rocks, and more.

JPL has created a one-of-a-kind robot prototype the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS) 1.0, that was created to traverse extreme terrains like ice, sand, cliff walls, deep craters, and lava tubes. This prototype is an updated version of the previous snake-like robot, and has been designed with a future mission to Saturn’s moon Enceladus in mind. EELS 1.0 is a self-propelled robot that weighs about 220 pounds and stands 13 feet tall, equipped with twelve actuators, ten of which are stitched together with screw threads, that allows it to not only rotate and move, but also grip. It was tested in various terrains on Earth, including the Athabasca Glacier, Mars Yard, and a ski resort. The JPL team tested the hardware and software capabilities, and demonstrated the robot’s ability to autonomously detect and recover from risk, as well as to develop 3D maps of its surroundings with built-in sensors and algorithms. While some robots may specialize in a particular terrain, EELS 1.0 is a versatile and risk-aware robot, prepared for unknown and uncertain conditions, and is considered a breakthrough in the robotics field.

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